The pollution of UX

It was only a matter of time until our first high-profile discreditation. Whatever anyone may say about the timing of Ryan Carson’s UX Professional Isn’t A Real Job, I saw one clear upside: I could talk with him face to face, far away from the ambiguities and public politics of the web. So I cornered Ryan at the dConstruct party for a lengthy, good-natured, beery chat, in which I stated my case with respect and passion. He conceded some points (such as that Carsonified apps are written for themselves as primary users, negating the need for UX specialism), as did I. I agreed to follow with a written rebuttal.

The post’s misrepresentation of UX is easily refuted: everyone should know how to cook, so why have chefs? The generalist/specialist debate has been replayed in knowledge work for decades, and answered recently by folk smarter than I. But three days later, the rebuttal doesn’t particularly interest me. Nor do I bear Ryan any grudge. Instead, my mind lingers on the painful and disheartening truths behind his post and our discussion.

As I read his tweet, I immediately forsaw the reaction: a hundred angry replies, and a hundred crowing retweets. It confirmed what I have long feared: the UX industry faces a credibility crisis. Victims of our success, we’ve created a rush of interest that has indeed caused some appalling job title inflation. Thousands of mediocre web generalists are now calling themselves UX designers in an effort to gain cash and authority.

The UX industry is becoming polluted by dilettantism. It’s no surprise then that people are attacking the field. We can expect more of it, and there’s a real chance that the fury and division we see in the conversation surrounding Ryan’s post will soon drown out the cause we espouse—designing technology that helps people be productive, empowered, and happy. Our peers are divided, with thousands eager to denounce our work. We have been unable to convince an influential web figure of our value. And this is a real shame since, alongside the flash-in-the-pan opportunists, there are exceptional people in UX who have formed a community of intelligence, generosity and thoughtful action. To see their work and passion decried as quackery makes me tremendously sad.

Perhaps my pessimism is exaggerated by too long in front of a computer and not long enough in front of a cocktail. But I’m disheartened that the cause I’ve dedicated my adult life to is seen as a fradulent landgrab. I worry it’s the beginning of the euphemism treadmill that could leave the UX label permanently damaged.

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